Anthony “Tony” Major, who recently retired from UCF after a long career as an actor, producer, director, documentary filmmaker and professor, passed away May 27. He was 79.
In addition to his family, he leaves behind scores of colleagues and former students who have benefited from his friendship and guidance.
Major spent more than 40 years creating films and theatre productions that depict slices of the African-American experience in the United States. Major worked with well-known actors such as Brad Pitt, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones and Dolly Parton. His recent projects included a documentary about the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
He received his bachelor’s degree in theatre from Hofstra University and an MFA in film and television from New York University. Prior to coming to UCF, Major was vice president of the Redd Foxx Corporation for six years, and then began his teaching career at the Tisch School of the Arts.
Major joined UCF in 1995 as a member of the theatre department. He later joined the film department and subsequently served as the acting program director, associate chair and assistant director of the department. He also served as the program director for the Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary Studies and as the director of the interdisciplinary Africana Studies program, housed within the College of Arts and Humanities.
Major was dedicated to his academic discipline and passionate about the development of students, spending hours mentoring them. He served as president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association from 2007-08 and during that time shared his poem “Go On with Your Bad Self,” which the organization held dearly.
Major also was the faculty advisor for the student organization, John T. Washington Association, for several years. He was also very active in the Central Florida community.
“Tony was a dear colleague, I will miss him,” says DeLaine Priest, associate vice president for Student Success, Student Development and Enrollment Services. “His words of wisdom, insights, humor and strong beliefs were valued and impactful.”
In his 24 years at UCF, he produced many theatre and film productions, some in collaboration with the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. His work with ZORA! includes projects with Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis, Richard Roundtree and Charles Dutton.
“Professor Major was an estimable resource in documenting ‘the life and times’ of late 20th/early 21st century Eatonville,” says N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community Community and the general manager of the annual ZORA! Festival. “In an effort to capture the life stories of Eatonville Elders on videotape; to document community events and meetings sponsored by the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. He was absolutely committed, having, on occasion, to serve as his own cameraman. Because of his experience in film and television, Professor Major was able to bring energy to a previously ‘sleepy’ Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary Studies, ensuring it played a significant role in the intellectual and creative life of the university community.”
“Tony changed the face of Theatre UCF,” says College of Arts and Humanities Associate Dean Lyman Brodie. “Tony helped the department recruit a more diverse student population, and provided access and opportunities for many students.”
Many former students of Major’s have gone on to careers as actors, producers, directors and talent agents in the film and theatre industry. In a recent profile of Major, he was quoted as saying that the reason the students were successful was because they had learned to think and to network. “Nothing is given in this business. You have to look for opportunities and hustle. It works. We’ve got several UCF graduates living their dream because they are smart and they work hard,” Major said.
In addition to his affiliations with UCF, his family is also closely tied to the university. His wife, Betty Bernard Major, graduated with a degree in health services administration from the College of Community Innovation and Education in May, and his son is enrolled in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. His daughter recently graduated from high school.
A community viewing is scheduled for Friday, June 7, from 5-7 pm at Postell’s Mortuary. On Saturday, June 8, there will be a viewing at Orlando World Outreach Center at 10 am, followed by funeral services at 11 am.
A remembrance will be held on the UCF campus in the Live Oak Room on June 27.